Gaultheria shallon, commonly known as salal or wintergreen, is found in moist wooded areas, creating a dense ground cover up to 1m high. On the immediate coast, a thicket of salal can form up to 2m high. The oval leaves are evergreen, leathery and extend to 8cm long, with a sharp apex. The leaf margins are finely serrate. Twigs and leaf stalks are often a distinctive red color. In mild climates, G. shallon can bloom at anytime of year but typically begins in the late spring. The light pink to white flowers are typical of the Ericaceae plant family, forming a bell or lantern shape, with the open end narrower than the widest diameter. The calyx and peduncle are typically hairy and sticky. Blackish-purple berries up to 1cm in diameter form in the summer, which are edible though aren’t very juicy and taste somewhat astringent.
The habitat or G. shallon includes moist to dry woodlands from lower elevations into the lower reaches of the mountains from British Columbiato southern California and the eastern base of the Cascade mountain ranges to the coast.
The berries of salal are very important to birds and mammals. Native peoples of the Pacific Northwest made great use of the berries as well.
The genus name of Gaultheria comes from a physician and botanist of Quebec named Jean Francois Gaultier (1708-1756).
Hitchcock, C.L. and A. Cronquist (1994) Flora of the Pacific Northwest, University of Washington Press, Seattle and London.
Kozloff, E.N. (1976) Plants and Animals of the Pacific Northwest. University of Washington Press, Seattle and London.